lateofthepier

 

As is customary procedure every two months or so, I have been on a bit of a David Bowie binge these past couple days.  At some point I will be sure to wax lyrical specifically on the great man himself, but this particular spell of Bowie indulgence has led me to metaphorically dusting off my old Late of the Pier MP3s because, in my mind, musically Late of the Pier were innovating in the spirit of Bowie, and their inexplicable absence for the past few years has been very upsetting.

Their Erol Alkan-produced debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, was released back in 2008, and boasted some extraordinary soundscapes.  Bright, brazen and brimming over with a really wild, weird sense of otherworldliness, these were songs which wouldn’t have sounded amiss soundtracking Bowie’s Labyrinth – or, as the band described themselves, it was “music to have asthma to”.  There aren’t really any two Late of the Pier songs which sound the same, and yet their sound never seemed to lack a sense of cohesion – rather, it was quite exciting that everything could be so all over the place.

‘The Bears Are Coming’ has its tribal, almost afrobeat rhythms, dancing beneath lush ripples of chaotic synths; ‘VW’ is an intense instrumental cacophony of brilliance, with thick, dramatic, dissonant swathes of sound; ‘Focker’ and ‘White Snake’ are both frantic and bizarre numbers with a much bigger nod to rock than the rest of their oeuvre; while ‘Heartbeat’ is a beautifully fluid piece of pop with a particularly sweet guitar line; and I always had a soft spot for the squelchy, sparkling, short but sweet ‘Random Firl’ with its lovely, brief, kind of psychedelic lyrics: “Lately, I’ve been thinking this whole world seems too hard / And I’d be better off to undo everything / But maybe it was only the Sun behind the clouds making everything seem nasty / Behind the clouds / It’s lovely behind the clouds”.

This is without covering a lot of their work, but my favourite three Late of the Pier songs would have to be ‘Space and the Woods’, ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ and their last (hopefully not last ever) single, ‘Blueberry’.  I’m not necessarily proud about it, but the band’s first single – the Gary Numan-esque ‘Space and the Woods’ – was my ringtone for a time, with its twinkling intro diffusing into dark, punchy, dance-y melodies and surprisingly quite profound lyrics, trying - according to an interview I just read - “to weigh up what is more important; a person or an inanimate object, or an absence of anything”.  ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ is a a fantastic piece of dance pop, wearing its odd, glam ’80s influences on its sleeve, all jumping beats and spacey rock with some exquisitely realised moments: “So put your hands on your waistline / and move your body to the bass line / And get your hands on some cheap wine / And keep moving ’til you feel fine” is arguably some of the funnest, most delightful lyricism of the past ten years.  ‘Blueberry’ was something a bit different, though: all gorgeous soaring anthem full of spacey strangeness, with delicate, pop verses and a sublime, again kind of psychedelic sound, with a chorus of children singing at the end, and it seemed promising of incredible things to come.    

I do not know what Late of the Pier are currently doing.  I do not know when – or if – they will release more music.  I just felt the need to take a moment and heap some gushing praise on a band whose oeuvre should not be left to gather dust in the recesses of 2008 when the NME were trying to make “new rave” a thing.  They were making some amazingly weird and innovative stuff, and the British music scene was all the more exciting for their presence.  Wherever you are, please come back soon.

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It was around this time two years ago when the idea of dumping my very neglected old music blog in favour of starting a new one which I could neglect just the same first crossed my mind.  The time of year, tellingly, is my annual pre-exam study leave, during which I am sitting around listening to music and looking for ways to procrastinate even more so than is normal.  Two years ago, I decided that the raw intensity of Le Tigre’s eponymous album was perfect study music, finding something quite motivational in the raucous yet driven songs.  As I embark once more into exam season, my ability to concentrate on one topic of study for a prolonged period of time is wavering more than ever, but as the riotgrrl music before made me realise, channelling stress and rage into work can be a fairly efficient way of going about these things – hence, my rediscovery of the Is Is EP by Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone down pretty nicely as regards imploring myself to put my head down and work.

Released back in 2007, this early EP is a bit different from the poppier, synth-tinged era of It’s Blitz (which love, but for slightly different reasons).  This EP is rock music: brazen, gut-wrenching, turbulent, sexually-charged, fantastic rock music.  Karen O screeches and sneers, one minute all shrugging nonchalance in her New York cool sprechgesang, the next bold and impassioned in her teasing, seductive, feral growls of melodies.  The music of Zinner and Chase swells around her, sometimes washing her along into intricate, blazing crescendoes and sometimes ebbing into sparser yet just as provocative and fervent shuffles of instrumentation.

Incredible opener ‘Rockers to Swallow’ is all raw, vigorous intensity with threatening, commandeering, throatiness from O and spiralling, gritty yet somehow almost-psychedelic guitar and chaotic yet somehow controlled drumming.  ‘Down Boy’ starts as a gentler, more romantic sounding number, with Zinner’s sweet, twinkling keyboards ushering in smooth percussion and soft vocals from O – that is, for around forty-five seconds, before things get intense all over again in the chorus and, no, she’s not yelling quite so much anymore, but O is still a domineering force, all coy but in control as she sings, (and you can almost hear her smiling), “Down boy, down” atop of the more tumultuous guitars.  ‘Kiss Kiss’ is a glitchy song full of frantic, lusty, propulsive palpitations, while ‘Isis’ swirls and snarls with a strangely dissonant, quasi-Middle Eastern vibe.  The final track ’10 X 10′ with the juddering, potent instrumentation and O’s repeated girlish “ah-ah”s, contrasting with her low, unforgiving growl throughout the rest of the song perhaps best surmises the EP – it can have moments of nonchalant, coy femininity, certainly, but the Is Is EP is primarily angry, turbulent and, well, empowered sexiness.

I am detracting from it massively to say that it is good background study music, because it is a fantastic rock EP (with the flaw that befalls all good EPs of being too short and leaving you wanting)… but it works pretty well in that exam time capacity all the same.

You can buy the Is Is EP here.  If you’re into your Lou Reed and your Patti Smith, you will love this as much as I do.

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Hearing this for the first time today, I genuinely thought that I was being played some remix of an obscure ABBA B-side.  With its frothy, sugary choruses and squelchy, cheesy beats resonating beneath, the latest track to be revealed from Metronomy’s upcoming album (incidentally, also called Love Letters) is a joy to listen to.  The song bursts to life with spiralling keyboards and yearning, romantic lyrics from the delicate intonations of Joseph Mount and that euphoric ’70s pop punch of Anna Prior’s chorus, all melting nicely into some warm and smooth caramel trumpet jams.

Between the sheer catchiness of the music itself and lines like, “From far across the sea / they fly from you to me / but still I get no sleep / oh, my love / don’t be mad / ‘cos I’ll keep on writing / love letters”, it’s hard not to be a little bit besotted with Love Letters.  The video was also directed by Michel Gondry, which makes for some pretty wonderful watching.

The other taste of the new album last year was the dazzling lovelorn shuffle of I’m Aquarius, with the beautiful caress of the looped female vocals singing, “shoop-doop-doop-ahhh”.  Between that and the title track, then, it would seem Love Letters is an album to get very excited about.

You can pre-order the album (out March 10th on Because Records) from here.

Collaborations are always a fun aspect in any genre, but I think ’90s/’00s R&B had some particularly great examples of artists coming together and creating some one-off wonders.  There are a whole host of excellent tracks which highlight this idea, but I’d say that some of the best of these efforts were between male hip-hop artists and female R&B artists.  This set-up of one male, one female allowed for sometimes sugary, romantic numbers, but just as easily lent themselves to some all-out sleazy vibes.  The male hip-hop star and female R&B/pop singer collaboration is one that lives on into the 2010s, and it tends to go down very well – however, I firmly maintain the glory days are those of Ja Rule doing collaborations with pretty much every female artist going, living it large.

I don’t think there’s any point in denying that there is a whole lot of misogyny and over-sexualisation of women in ’90s/’00s R&B and hip-hop (B2K, I love you, but these lyrics are a wee bit questionable), but if Robin Thicke has taught us anything this year, it’s that pop music in general has a tendency to be pretty sexist.  Luckily for this era of R&B, ladies like Destiny’s Child and TLC kept the girl power going – but that’s a topic for another post.  For now, here are seven (sometimes a little bit sexist) classics of male-female duets, rooted in ’90s/’00s R&B:

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I am, as ever, somewhat behind in terms of what is going on in the blogging world, but a few days ago the long list for the UK Blog Sound of 2014 was revealed.  With 59 UK-based blogs voting this year, the idea of the list is to give an alternative to the “BBC Sound of” list, which offers an insight into the cumulative tastes of various bloggers and the artists they are most excited about.  Given that the Blog Sound list is always an great look into emerging music – the 2011 list contained Alt-J and Bastille, neither of whom were mentioned in the BBC list that year – and also given that I voted in the poll myself, I thought it was only fitting to post the long list here.

The shortlist, with the winner and runners up, will be revealed on January 2nd.  You can keep up to date on Twitter by following #blogsound2014

I’ll give more insightful thoughts on the list, along with letting you know who my votes went to, in January when the top three are revealed.  For now, here is the long list and a list of the blogs who voted, along with some music, all of which is very much worth listening to – some exquisite and exciting vibes in here:

 

BANKS


EMBERS


GEORGE EZRA

(I wrote about him here)


HELLA BETTER DANCER

(Actually delighted that they still exist, I interviewed them back in the questionably written Music Journal days – read it here)


HOCKEYSMITH


HONEYBLOOD


IYES


KHUSHI

(I wrote about him here.)


LYLA FOY


MARIKA HACKMAN


MT WOLF

(They have unfortunately announced their split and are, therefore, no longer really going to be a Sound of 2014… but check them out anyway, they have some lovely, haunting Bat For Lashes-esque vibes.)


ROYAL BLOOD


RHODES


SIVU


SOPHIE JAMIESON


WOLF ALICE

And these are the participating blogs:

17 SecondsA Pocket Full Of SeedsAll NoiseAlphabet BandsBeat SurrenderBoth Bars OnBrapscallionsBreaking More Waves,Brighton Music BlogCat From JapanDaisy DigitalDetails Of My LifeDon’t Watch Me DancingDots and DashesDrunken Werewolf,Eaten By MonstersEchoes and DustElectronic RumoursFaded GlamourGod Is In The TVGold Flake PaintHearty VibesI Love PieIn Love Not LimboJust Music That I LikeKilling MoonLike 1999Little Indie BlogsLove Music : Love LifeMusic Broke My BonesMusic LiberationMusic Like Dirt, My Band’s Better Than Your BandMy Day By Day MusicNot Many ExpertsPeenkoPop DodgerRepeat ButtonScientists Of SoundScottish FictionSkeletorySleep In MusicSome Of It Is TrueSound InfluxSounds Good To MeSounds Of Now MusicSweeping The NationThe Blue WalrusThe Devil Has The Best TunaThe Electricity ClubThe Evening’s EmpireThe Mad MackerelThe Metaphorical BoatThe Sound Of ConfusionThe UnderclassedThe VPMEThis Must Be PopThoughts On MusicWhen The Gramophone Rings

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The above picture is taken from Lou Reed’s 1959 high school year book and that line about taking life as it comes is kind of perfect I think.  I sort of felt the need to write at least something here today having now had a couple hours to process the fact that one of my favourite artists has died.  I adore The Velvet Underground and between that sublime body of work and his solo oeuvre, Lou Reed’s music means a lot to me.  He was just so cool with that seductive, nonchalant sprechgesang; the perpetual sunglasses; the fact he was part of the Factory crew with Andy Warhol; and, of course, those frank, beautiful lyrics about drugs and would-be romances.

Nico, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground at The Castle, 1965And yet in spite of that whole casual, indifferent demeanour he was always so incredibly enthused and passionate about creating and appreciating music and, yeah, sometimes it wasn’t great (I’m thinking mainly of the Metallica collaboration), but more often than not Lou Reed produced music of otherworldly quality, pushing the boundaries of the underground art scene and paving the way for innovative, exciting new sounds.

I’m not really sure what else to write, because nothing I write will do him justice or explain how much I love him and his music and how much it means.  I guess this lyric from ‘Berlin’ kind of sums it up for me anyway.

“oh babe I’m gonna miss you now that you’re gone”

RIP.

wonyeabor

For those wondering about the lack of ‘For the love of R&B’ posts, I have decided I have enough material to make that an ongoing feature for a good while, but while the sun is still shining and I’m in a pretty great mood, I thought I would share a recent excellent musical addition to my life  - Nigeria’s William Onyeabor. Purveyor and pioneer of the most delicious sugary sweet electro-funk, his music twinkles and dazzles and makes me want to jive like nothing else.  Lush, warm swathes of keyboards and synths and gentle, joyous vocals, this stuff is surely the musical definition of euphoria.

In October, as a part of their World Psychedelic Classics series, Luaka Bop will be releasing a 14-track album of Onyeabor’s work, Who is William Onyeabor?, whilst attempting to solve the mystery of who exactly Onyeabor is.  The story goes that, after self-releasing music between 1978-85 the artist became a Born-Again Christian and turned his back on his musical past, refusing to speak of it again.  Which is just such a shame when you consider the beautifully fluid, intricate electronic songs he composed, aplomb with this ridiculously fun sense of sway and strut.

Needless to say, Who is William Onyeabor? is looking to be a very exciting prospect indeed.  You can get a free download of the great ‘Good Name’ below.  The album will be out on Luaka Bop on October 15th.

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